Month: August 2013

Vose Seminary at Fifty: From “Preach the Word” to “Come Grow”


I’ve co-edited a book, and it’s launching on Tuesday:

Vose Seminary began as the Baptist Theological College of Western Australia in 1963. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary, this book brings together a collaborative history of the seminary with essays examining shifts in the church and theology over those fifty years. The contributions from twenty-five Vose staff, students and graduates demonstrate the generous evangelicalism which marks the seminary.

The book is an account of where Vose Seminary has been over the last fifty years and an attempt to define the task which lies ahead for theological educators in equipping the church for the future.

The story of our seminary is an important one for the church in Perth. The different contributors reveal some interesting things, such as the story of Ruth Snell, an early student who went on to become the first woman to be a Baptist senior pastor in Australia. Reading Karen Siggins’ essay on women at Vose Seminary, I was struck by how far we have come, and yet how much further we have to go.

I wrote a history of the library for the book, and it was a project I found particularly interesting. Unearthing the traces of the past revealed a lot of gaps and misunderstandings in the oral traditions I had heard. The research process was a treasure hunt, the thrill at finding a mention of the library in a newsletter from decades ago, or of Lynn, one of the previous librarians, uncovering important documents. I don’t know how interesting the history of a library can be for those who aren’t involved in it, but I tried to make it so.  I begin the essay with this:

More than any other part of Vose Seminary, the library bears traces of its past—an accumulation of books, journals, shelving and paraphernalia from throughout its history. Since I began as seminary librarian in 2008, just as BTCWA was about to become Vose Seminary, I have been intrigued by these pieces of the past woven into the library.

Many books bear the names of previous owners; there are hundreds from some donors—Noel Vose, Geoffrey Wild, A.C. Maynard, Ruth Atkins. A separate collection of history books bears the name of Professor Herbert Hallam, a medieval historian at the University of Western Australia; they were donated in 1994 after his death. Many others bear the stamps of defunct libraries, such as the Perth Diocesan Library. A number of books still have the borrower cards which became obsolete with automation. There are always familiar names written on these cards; it is a particular kind of pleasure to know a friend or mentor read the same copy of a book a decade or two ago.

You can buy the book from Mosaic Resources (the publisher) – Or you can come to the launch and buy a copy there! It’s happening on Tuesday 27 August at 5pm at Vose Seminary Library, 20 Hayman Rd, Bentley. RSVP:

Here’s a full listing of the contents, because you won’t find it anywhere else on the web.



A Note on Style and Sources


A Kingdom of Mustard Seeds
Noel Vose

Ministerial Training (1895—1962)
Richard Moore

BTCWA Under Dr Noel Vose, Founding Principal: As Sole Full-time Faculty (1963—1978)
Richard Moore

Reflections: Fred Stone

Reflections: Arthur Payne

Reflections: Ashley Crane

BTCWA Under Dr Noel Vose, Founding Principal: The Faculty of Three Era (1979—1990)
Richard Moore

Reflections: Roland Maxwell

Reflections: Ann Mallaby

Reflections: Neil Mactaggart

Supervised Field Education: Bob Clark

Fellow-Workers Program: Jennifer Turner

BTCWA Under the Second Principal, Dr John Olley (1991—2003)
Richard Moore

Reflections: Mark Wilson

Reflections: Lynn White

Reflections: Alex Okhrimouk

A “Principal for Change”: From BTCWA to Vose Seminary Under Dr Brian Harris (2004—)
Richard Moore

Reflections: Evelyn Ashley

Reflections: Carolyn Tan

Fifty Years of Students: The Changing Demography of the Vose Student Body
Aaron Chidgzey

The Experience of Women in Theological Education: From the Fringes Towards the Centre
Karen Siggins

A History of Vose Library
Nathan Hobby


Biblical Studies—Whence and Where? Reflections on Fifty Years
David Cohen and John Olley

Baptists and the Bible in the Twenty-first Century
Michael O’Neil

Whither Preaching?
Brian Harris

Developments in Pastoral Care in the Last Fifty Years
Fred Stone

Who Stole My Pastorate?
Steve Ingram

Theology of Everyday Life
Jennifer Turner

Learning from the Emerging Threads of Mission 1963–2013
Neil Anderson

Faithful Thinking: The Task Ahead for Christian Higher Education
Brian Harris

Appendix A: Commencement and Conferral Speakers
Prepared by L-J du Heaume

Appendix B: Senior Students
Prepared by L-J du Heaume

Appendix C: Books Written or Edited by Vose Faculty and Tutors


Justin Welby biography

Archbishop Justin Welby: The Road to Canterbury / Andrew Atherstone (DLT, 2013)

A group of us at church are meeting to discuss this short biography of the recently installed Archbishop of Canterbury. Welby comes across as a leader with the ability to turn things around, and reconcile people in the most difficult circumstances – from African conflicts to diocesan spats about the sale of paintings. Welby wrote in 2012, “Division, dislike and even hatred are the quickest ways to kill churches. The first to leave is the Spirit of God. Reconciliation and modeling difference without enmity to a world in desperate need of it is both healing spirituality and effective testimony to Christ.”

Ten – or even five – years ago, I would have been antithetical to reading this book, because I was anti-hierarchical and anti-leadership, and because the Anglican Church is, in origin at least, so thoroughly Constantinian. And because I didn’t read biographies. Against my house church days, I’ve come to cautiously accept the value of good leadership in churches – I should blog on this one day. I now attend an Anglican church – again, worthy of a post to explain myself. And my main area of literary interest is currently biography. (Would my old self like this 2013 self? Not sure; he might be very disappointed.)

It is a decent biography for a quickly written one. Yet it feels too banal at times; perhaps this is because Atherstone is writing about the living. Or perhaps it is because Welby’s life has been quite ordinary between the exciting parts. But I think it’s also because it relies heavily on sermons and weekly columns written by Welby, and so despite not being authorised, it comes across very much as a sanitised, public biography. Am I saying Atherstone should have tried to dig up more dirt and highlight antagonism? Well, probably not, but these are some of our expectations of biography. Perhaps he should have at least found a still seething parishoner from the time Welby removed the pews from his parish church in the 1990s and replaced them with chairs.


Faith in the Shadow of Death: A Review of Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss

Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) 

Christian Wiman is a poet with a rare cancer, currently in remission. He was brought up a Texan Baptist, lost his childhood faith, only to return to church and a new kind of faith in the midst of falling in love and being diagnosed with cancer in his late thirties.

It is the second great spiritual memoir I’ve read this year, and it reminded me a lot of the other – Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic. White men in their late forties who both write beautifully, and have a faith on the margins of doubt. Both memoirs are digressive and lack structure. Spufford’s is the more whimsical; Wyman’s is the more urgent and darker – but not even by that much.

My Bright Abyss is an extended meditation – illustrated with poetry – on believing in God when God so often feels absent. It is a far better book on doubt than any evangelical attempt I have encountered – probably because it is so honest, and so unconcerned to get to a particular answer. (Really, for Wiman and any unbeliever reading, it is a book about faith; but most believers will probably find it to be a book about doubt.)

It is an extremely quotable book; almost a collection of quotable insights. But this one is as good as any to give a taste of Wiman’s theme:

We feel ourselves alive in the anxiety of being alive. We feel God in the coming and going of God – or no, the coming and going of consciousness (God is constant). We are left with these fugitive instants of apprehension, in both senses of that word, which is one reason why poetry, which is designed not simply to arrest these instants but to integrate them into life, can be such a powerful aid to faith. (27)

He has not compelled me to return to poetry, although I believe he’s right, and the book itself stands as a testimony to the significance of poetry in making sense of life.

For Wiman, faith is something fragile:

To say that one must live in uncertainty doesn’t begin to get at the tenuous, precarious nature of faith. The minute you begin to speak with certitude about God, he is gone. (60)

At the centre of Wiman’s faith in this book is the moment Christ on the cross calls out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is a book which takes existence and death seriously, when so few books and so few people do. This is a man who has stared into the abyss and written beautifully about it.

More: Interview with Wiman here.